SC lauds efforts of Haji Ali Dargah in removing encroachments

, 8:07 PM IST
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New Delhi: The Supreme Court today asked Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah Trust to remove encroachments in a 500 square metre area in the historic shrine within four weeks, while lauding its efforts in this regard so far.

The apex court said if the encroachers failed to comply with the order to remove the encroachments by June 6, then the Joint Task Force (JTF) set up by the Bombay High Court will come into picture and begin the work of removing them from June 10 and complete the task by June 30.

A bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar directed that the beautification plan around the shrine, built in 1431 AD, has to be placed on record before the apex court on or before June 30. It said the beautification plan prepared by the trust can be accepted and if required, the municipal council of Mumbai can make modification.

The council would also be at liberty to substitute it with another plan and in carrying out the above exercise the civic body can take assistance of a well-known urban heritage architect.

The bench said the sentiments of the people of the community should be kept in mind while carrying out the plans and posted the matter for further hearing on July 3.

The Haji Ali Dargah was constructed in 1431 in memory of a wealthy Muslim merchant, Sayyed Peer Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, who gave up all his possessions before making a pilgrimage to Mecca. The bench in its order noted that the instant order was in continuation of the order passed by it on April 13. It took on record the affidavit of compliance filed by the trust till May 8.

“We place on record our appreciation the endeavour of the Trust in complying with our order and the undertaking given by it on April 13,” the bench said. It also appreciated the team of counsel and members of the Trust who participated in the entire exercise by providing input from time to time.

The bench noted that the perusal of the factual position depicted in the affidavit indicates that the encroachment has not been removed so far in small portion of 500 square metre.

Taking note of the fact, the bench said that it would be just and appropriate to direct the JTF constituted by the Bombay High Court to associate itself with others including representative of the Trust to verify factual position which has to be done within one week from today.

It said, “In so far as 500 sq mt area over which the encroachments still remain, we consider it just and appropriate to grant encroachers four weeks from today to remove the said encroachments on their own by June 6.”

“We hope and expect that the trust will do good work in pursuading encroachers to remove the encroachments. Any remaining encroachments thereafter, will be removed by the JTF,” the bench said. The Haji Ali Dargah Trust had on April 13 relented to the tough stand taken by the apex court against large scale encroachments around the historic Mumbai mosque and volunteered to remove them by May 8.

The offer to remove and demolish encroachments came after the apex court made it clear that only the mosque, located on an area of around 171 sq meter since 1931, would remain protected while rest of the area, measuring 908 sq meter, has to be cleared of squatters. The top court, which took a strict view of the issue, had observed, “Believers of religion would never support encroachment”.

The trust had made the offer after the apex court said it has to come out with a stand on whether it supported the demolition of encroachments in the entire area, barring the 171 sq meter area where the mosque is “subsisting”.

Appreciating the stand, the bench had allowed the trust asking it to complete the task on or before May 8 subject to the satisfaction of two authorities indicated in February 10 order of the Bombay High Court. The High Court had ordered the formation of a joint task force comprising the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and the Collector to remove illegal encroachments on the approach road leading to the Haji Ali Dargah.

The bench had also given liberty to the Trust to place for consideration before the apex court the beautification and architecture plan for maintaining the access and surroundings of the area. The bench had also made it clear that no other court other than the apex court will entertain the petition relating to the removal of encroachment around the shrine.

It had also said it will be open for any party desiring modification of its order to approach the apex court with an application in the pending petition. The bench had issued notice to Maharashtra government and its civic body on the appeal filed by the Dargah Trust against the Bombay High Court order.

The High Court had ordered formation of a joint task force comprising Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai and Collector to remove illegal encroachments at the approach road leading to Haji Ali Dargah within three months.

The High Court was hearing a petition filed by Sahayak, a socio-legal and educational forum which sought immediate removal of the encroachments on the approach road to Haji Ali which is in the sea. The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai was of the view that the land on the approach road to Haji Ali falls in the Collector’s jurisdiction and therefore the Collector should remove the encroachments.